Bible Text: 1 John 5:4-12; John 20:19-23 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year The Easter Life 1 St. John 5:4-12 & St. John 20:19-23 by William Klock Just two weeks ago we celebrated the feast day of a British teenager, who in the early 5th was kidnapped from his home by Irish pirates. His name was Patrick. Those pirates took him back to Ireland where he was sold as a slave. When he escaped he travelled to France where he entered the priesthood, following in the steps of his father and grandfather. He studied and about AD 432 was appointed to be a missionary bishop to Ireland. His great desire was to return to the people who had kidnapped him and who had made him a slave so that he could share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them. As word of Patrick’s ministry spread people began to seek him out. One of those people was Findcath mac Dego, one of the Irish kings. Patrick shared the Gospel with this pagan king and with his whole entourage of warriors and druids. The king and his men took the message of Jesus Christ to heart that day and were baptised by Patrick. His instruction to the newly baptised men went something like this: “Today you have put on Christ. You have bound him to you like the armour on a Roman soldier’s chest, a lorica, is tied to him. Now you belong to Christ. As you have been washed in the well of washing and poured and sprinkled with water from above, so have you received the Spirit from Heaven. You are surrounded by Christ as the waters swelled around you in the regeneration of new life.” Patrick’s parting advice to the King was this: “My King you now belong to Christ and Christ belongs to you; go and live your Baptism.” Martin Luther described Findcath when he left Patrick that day as going out “to swim in his Baptism.” I think Luther’s words describe our new life in Christ very well. We’re to go out and swim in our Baptism. The Sacraments are the outward and visible signs of the grace that God has worked in us through his Son. Next time you go to a Christian bookstore, look around you at all the books that aim to tell us how to successfully be a Christian. Some of those books are good and lots of them are trash, but how many of them start where Patrick started – with the Sacramental sign of our being grafted into the Body of Christ? It shouldn’t be any surprise to us that Jesus forever linked Christian discileship to the sacrament of Holy Baptism when he gave his Great: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” One of the great errors of the modern Church has been to separate the very Sacraments that Our Lord ordained from his call to discipleship and our sanctification. Too often the Sacraments have become something optional. You get baptised if and when you feel like it. Holy Communion has been taken from the main gathering of God’s people on Sunday morning and has been moved to a small, optional, and poorly attended Wednesday or Sunday evening service. Jesus didn’t give us a whole lot of direct commands, but he did tell his people to do these two things: to be baptised and to receive his Supper until his coming again. These two Sacraments should be the starting point of our faith, but they aren’t just ceremonial points in time with a beginning and an end. Our baptism marks a new life – one that continues. Baptism isn’t a “been there, done that” sort of thing. It’s “been there, still there.” It’s done that, still doing that. The same goes for Communion. It’s not just something we do on Sundays. What we do on Sunday is to be a reminder to us that we live our lives in perpetual Communion with Christ. He is our spiritual nourishment. As we go down the road of discipleship, we start with our baptism and continue in Communion with our Lord as we make the journey. As modern people we want to segment or compartmentalise our lives. We go to work and live in the “work sphere.” We go home and we live in the “family sphere.” We go to church and live in the “church sphere.” A lot of us have a hard time putting it all together and realising that they’re all ongoing and part of one life. We tend to look at things as isolated events. Easter tends to be that way. We celebrate Easter one Sunday and the next we’re on to something else. But the Church knows better than that. That’s why we celebrate Easter for fifty days. It’s a reminder that Easter is the reality of the Christian life – that every day is an Easter for each of us as we celebrate and live in Christ’s resurrection. The Resurrection is supposed to have a lasting effect on us. In 1 Corinthians, St. Paul writes, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8). We need to rebuild our lives on the grace of Easter and that means building on a solid foundation of faith. The Sacraments are signs and seals of Gods grace. As they communicate God’s promises to us they confirm and strengthen the faith that God calls us to live daily. Our Epistle lesson tells us that the victory that overcomes the world is that faith. In the Gospel lesson Jesus says to Thomas, “have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” Our faith is what gives us the desire to put into action what God has taught us. Faith should never stop with head knowledge or intellectual assent – our faith has to go into action. The problem is that our human nature is inconsistent. We stumble and fall. But God knows we’re prone to getting weak as we journey with him. He knows that and he gives us the grace to persevere. In the Epistle we’re told that Christ comes to us in both water and blood and by the Spirit. All three are there to encourage us. Our baptism is a reminder that we are not of this fallen world – we’re a part of Christ’s Body – and the Holy Communion reminds us that we receive our life from Christ. These are what give us strength to persevere when we’re spiritually tired. In Romans 6, St. Paul tells us that all who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death. As Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we, too, should walk in newness of life. Last Sunday our focus was on the Resurrection. But it’s important that we remember that the resurrection isn’t something that just relates to Jesus – it related to us to. St. Paul wrote to Timothy: “If we have died with him, we shall also live with him” (2 Timothy 2:11). So we need to ask, “What does it mean that we partake of Christ’s resurrection too?” Look at our Epistle lesson, 1 John 5:4-5: For whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that overcomes the world, our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? The power for the risen life comes from union with our risen Saviour. We know that we’re citizens of God’s Kingdom, but until we either die or Jesus comes again, we all have to spend our earthly lives living in a sinful and fallen world. If you remember back a few weeks, the lessons of the first three Sundays in Lent put our focus on how we’re assaulted by the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. We might be God’s children, but that doesn’t mean we don’t still face very real temptations and struggles with what we’ve been called away from. The only way that we can overcome the ways of our old lives is by a life and an energy from a higher source. The Christian must be “born from above.” It’s not enough to have head knowledge, as I said earlier. It’s not enough to accept Christ as a teacher who came to show us a higher and better way for living. If that’s all we do, then all we have is a higher standard than others, but no real power to rise to it. The difference comes when we believe that our Teacher and Master is the Son of God who was resurrected and has triumphed over sin and death. We can find the grace and power to live according to his commandments when we understand Jesus is the Son of God. Through faith we receive the grace of God. Our old selves are buried with him in the grave and we born again through his Easter Resurrection. Because he has already conquered sin and death, he gives us the power to do so to. As citizens of his Kingdom, living under his victorious reign we live the new life that he gives – we overcome the world. The bringer of life is Christ. Look at verse 6: This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. Christ came by water and by blood. First, he came to cleanse us from our sins by the washing of water. The baptism that he commanded is the outward sign of the remission of our sins and his relieving us of our guilt and punishment. In him every sin we have ever committed is washed away. Because of Christ’s cleansing us, we can stand before a holy and just God and not be condemned. Jesus received our condemnation. He is our life. Because of that, every remission of sins after our baptism is only the renewal of the grace that has been given to us. St. Paul also wrote to Titus about baptism being the washing of regeneration the means by which we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, which then works in us to renew our hearts and minds and make us fit servants of God(Titus 3:5. Baptism incorporates us into the living Body of Christ. It grafts us into the living Vine and makes old dead wood that could produce nothing to be alive with the Spirit so that it can bear new fruit. We are taken into a new covenant with God, being baptised into the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Because Christ died for us – he took our punishment on himself – we have a new standing before God. When the soldier pierced Jesus side as he was hanging on the cross “there came out blood and water,” to signify the cleansing power of his blood. Secondly, St. John emphatically adds: “Not with water only but with water and the blood.” The blood is the life. Remember all the way back to Genesis: God warned Noah “You shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood” (Genesis 9:4). God taught his people over and over that blood is life. The old sacrificial system taught that blood – life – had to be shed to cover sins. When a sacrifice was made in the Tabernacle of the Temple, the point wasn’t to symbolise an offering of death. The shedding of blood on the altar was a symbolic offering of life to atone for sin. The whole point of the Old Testament sacrificial system was to teach God’s people that innocent blood must be shed to cover sins. Those imperfect sacrifices of dumb animals pointed to the perfect sacrifice that Christ made for us in his own death. Jesus said, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). He gives us that abundant life through is blood. Jesus also said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever” (John 6:53-58). We are grafted into his Body and we receive our nourishment from him. The Holy Communion is the outward sign and seal of that grace. Through his blood we abide in the living Christ and he abides in us. Finally, look at verses 7-12: And the Spirit is the witness, because the Spirit is the truth. There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree. If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for this is the testimony of God that he has borne witness to his Son. He who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. He who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne to his Son. And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who has not the Son of God has not life. St. John’s train of thought is plain. The life given by the Spirit, the Water, and the Blood is the ongoing and perpetual witness to the Son of God. The Holy Spirit creates new life in us, which is seen outwardly in our baptism, and then the Spirit feeds and strengths that life through our communion with Christ as we receive his body and blood, our heavenly food. The very fact that we live – and when we’re all gathered together, that the Church lives – is the evidence of the claim that Jesus has made to be our Lord. This isn’t the testimony or witness of men; it’s the witness of God the Holy Spirit living in men. It might come through men and women, but that’s because each believer lives again in Christ and can witness him. Life comes from life, and the risen Christian proves a risen Christ to be the source of our Christianity. In fact, the growth of the Church – of the Body of Christ – is the ongoing growing and strengthening witness to Christ in the world. St. John Chrysostom wrote: The Chruch consisteth of these two together, and those who are initiated know this, being regenerated by water and nourished by the Blood and Flesh. Hence the Sacraments take their beginning” (Homily 85). The Church fulfils her mission and grows as she abides in Christ and he abides in her. To be the Church means that we stress this new life above all else. In our Gospel lesson this morning we see Jesus giving his divine commission to the disciples. They were laying low and hiding out from the authorities when Jesus appeared in the room before them. And yet Jesus gave these men calm assurance. He came into the room and simply said, “Peace be with you.” They saw his pierced hands and his feet and that was all they needed. St. John says that they were glad to see their risen Lord. But notice that Jesus didn’t just come to give a little bit of reassurance to a group of men who feared that the authorities might come for them next – to crucify them the same way their Lord had been. No, Jesus reassured them and gave them a commission: Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” Think about it. Those disciples were scared. When Jesus was before the Sanhedrin Peter had been identified as one of his followers. They were afraid to show their faces in Jerusalem. Jesus came to give them reassurance, but that’s not all – he and call them to go out and boldly proclaim that the Kingdom of God had come, just as he had spent the last three years proclaiming that same Kingdom. They just wanted to hide and Jesus said, “No! God out and boldly proclaim the message I gave you!” You see, too often we as Christian are happy to receive Christ’s comfort. We’re happy that we’ve been saved from our sins. We’re happy to leave sin behind and live our lives, by the help of the Spirit, in ways that are pleasing to God. But does that involve actually going out into the world to use those Spirit-given gifts to proclaim the Kingdom of God? The Father didn’t send the Spirit just to make us feel warm and fuzzy. He sent the Spirit to empower his people for service and ministry. Pentecost wasn’t about feeling warm and fuzzy or about having nice feelings about God. It was about boldly proclaiming a message of salvation through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. The early Christians understood what it meant to be Easter people – to be people united with Christ in his Resurrection. But Jesus breathes on each of us too. To swim in your baptism, as Luther used to put it, means to live the Spirit-filled life. God fills each of us with his Spirit just as he did those disciples he breathed on as he commissioned them. Jesus empowered his disciples and said to them, “I send you.” And he does the same to each of us. Take those words in our Gospel lesson as if they were spoken to you. This is where we start. We find our risen life in our risen Saviour. We have been joined with him and we find our spiritual food in him. When Christ died and rose from the dead he crushed the head of the Serpent. St. John described in his vision, how the angel chained that old Serpent, the Devil, and threw him into the pit. On the cross, Christ bought not only his victory, but our own, and now he sits in heaven at the right hand of the Father where he reigns over his Kingdom. His disciples huddled fearfully in that room with the doors and windows shut, fearing the world outside and what might happen to them if they showed their faces in Jerusalem. They didn’t realize that they had nothing to fear. Our Lord and Master is ruler over all and has won the victory for us. Too often we’re just like the disciples. Jesus says to each of us, “I send you,” but we’re afraid. We just need to remember that he reigns and that we have nothing to fear when we go out in his name. That was what drove those early Christians, even when they suffered martyrdom. They understood what it meant to be an Easter people. They understood what it meant to be citizens of God’s Kingdom. They knew what it meant for their Lord to have already won the victory. I’m reminded of the chorus of a popular hymn – it’s not a typical Anglican hymn – but I think the words really sum up the life we find in our risen Saviour: O victory in Jesus, My saviour forever, He sought me and he bought me With his redeeming blood; He loved me ere I knew him, And all my love is due him, He plunged me to victory, Beneath the cleansing flood.
Bible Text: 1 John 5:4-12; John 20:19-23 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the First Sunday after Easter 1 St. John 5:4-12 & St. John 20:19-23 by William Klock When we were here together last week to celebrate the great Feast of the Resurrection, I stressed the point that as Christians we’re called not to be just Good Friday people, but to be Easter people.  There are a lot of people who are happy to claim the salvation Jesus offers at the cross on Good Friday and to then call it all good.  “I’m saved now. Thanks Jesus.  Don’t mind me while I keep doing my own thing.”  I’ve met more people I can count who approach Jesus that way and then go through their lives with a false assurance that when Judgement Day arrives, everything’s going to be just fine for them.  As I said last week, real faith doesn’t work that way.  Real saving faith only begins on Good Friday.  Real saving faith only begins at the cross.  Real saving faith comes to full fruit on Easter as Jesus rises to life again and he takes all those who truly accepted his death on the cross and raises them—raises us—to new life with him.  We need to remember that the Gospel isn’t just that Jesus saves us from the penalty of our sins.  The Gospel is also just as much that Jesus saves us from our sins themselves.  In rising to life again he conquered sin and death and because of that, everyone who is in him and living his resurrection life, will be dead to sin too. Think of it this way.  In the Church’s calendar, Good Friday is one day.  Easter lasts for forty.  It began last week, but we’ll continue to celebrate Easter for five more Sundays—taking us up to the Ascension and to Pentecost.  And on each of these Sundays, the lessons point us to what it means to life out new life in Christ. The ancient Church made this lesson even more visible.  We celebrate the Easter season for forty days, but Easter itself is just one day in our calendar.  The ancient Church celebrated Easter for a whole week.  And even though Easter is the most important of all our feast days, it was probably even more so in those times.  The church calendar started with Easter.  That was the feast of the Early Church.  It was only over the coming decades and centuries that the other holy days and feasts were added.  And the focus of their week-long Easter celebration was on those who were newly baptised at the Easter Vigil.  Those new Christians would wear white baptismal robes through that whole week, and their brothers and sisters would sort of vicariously live through them—remembering their own baptism and the joy of being newly in Christ.  And then at the end of that Easter week, the new Christians would be gathered together with the Church and they’d take off the white robes—they’d be back in their everyday street clothes.  But the priest or the bishop would exhort them, using St. Paul’s words, “All you that are baptised in Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27).  The point was to remind them that even though they were taking off those white robes and going back to their normal workaday lives, even though the great festival of Easter was over, they were to continue to be an Easter people—they were to be faithful in living out their new life in Christ.  And brothers and sisters, those are words that should inspire us to do the same. It was on this first Sunday after Easter that the newly baptised took their place side-by-side with their brothers and sisters who were mature in the faith.  They were fully initiated now and were expected to pull their weight as members of the Church—as members of Christ’s Body.  It was as if they had graduated from school and were now equipped and pledged to living out their new life in Christ—to persevere in the face of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  But that’s not just something for new Christians.  We all need to be reminded of the pledge that we all took, the commitment we all made in our baptism.  This is why in our collect this morning we prayed: “Almighty Father, you have given your only Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant that we may put away the old leaven of corruption and wickedness, and always serve you in sincerity and truth; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.”  That’s a prayer that we would truly be an Easter people—truly be a Resurrection people.  The great feast of Easter may be over when it comes to the calendar, but it never ends when it comes to our lives.  I like the way Fr. Parsch put it: “The high feasts of the Church should be more than occasions for religious emotionalism. Every feast-day celebration should have a lasting influence, and Easter above all ought to effect in us rebirth of Christian fervour and zeal.”  Consider how excited we feel about celebrations like Christmas and Easter, Ascension and Pentecost, and how, once the day is passed—maybe as quickly as once we’ve left the church building that day—the excitement passes and we all but forget about the great Gospel truths we were just celebrating.  Instead, we need to let the celebrations of the Church sink deeply into our lives, to let them grow our faith, and to let them lead us to better serve our Lord. This is something that the Easter Vigil gets at directly.  The Great Vigil is the central celebration of the Easter season; it’s what leads us from Good Friday into Easter Sunday and it does that in part by taking us back to our baptism.  As part of the Vigil, we read through the Old Testament to recall God’s bringing about our redemption and then from there we gather at the font and renew the vows we took when we were baptised.  When we were baptised we were asked—or our sponsors were asked on our behalf, “Do you renounce the devil and all his works, the empty display and false values of the world, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that you will not follow nor be led by them?”  And each of us answered, “I renounce them all.”  And last Saturday night as we prepared for Easter we were asked again, “Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil and renew your commitment to Jesus Christ?”  And we each answered, “I do.” That’s not a vow to take lightly, because it’s a vow that is at the core of the Christian life—if you’re going to follow Christ, you have to make good on it.  Sixteen-hundred years ago St. Augustine preached this same message to the people in his care—people that were just as prone as we are to forgetting the vow we once took.  He said: “You did not renounce the devil in the presence of men, but in sight of God and the angels.  Nor do you renounce the devil merely by words but by the works you perform.  Never forget that you are at warfare with a sly and ancient enemy.  One minute you are uttering long prayers in church; the next minute you are shouting shameless words along with the other spectators at the circus.  What right have you to be enamoured of the pomps of the devil, whom you have renounced?” How many of us sing songs of praise on Sunday, come to the Lord’s Table to partake of his Body and Blood, committing ourselves to him, and then walk out those doors and go back to living unregenerate lives?  Brothers and sisters, that’s not what Christ has called us to. In our Epistle St. John tells us very plainly: Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:4-5) Our baptismal vows express the reality of the new life Jesus has given us and if we would remember those vows, if we would live by them, trusting in the work Jesus did at the cross to give us new life, we would truly be an Easter people—we would truly be different and we’d have a bright light to hold up when we’re out in that dark world. This is why our custom when someone is baptised here is to give them a candle.  That candle is lit from the Paschal Candle—from the Easter flame that presents the light of Christ in our midst—and it’s delivered with the words, “Receive this lighted candle and keep your Baptism above reproach.”  This was one the practices of the ancient Church and one that has been revived in the last century or so.  We take that candle and let it burn for a minute or two and then blow it out as we go back to our seats as the service continues.  When we get home we put it in a drawer and forget about it.  We might even lose it over time.  But friends, that candle is a symbol of the grace we receive in our baptism.  It’s a symbol of Christ-in-us and it’s a symbol of the light of Christ that we should be taking out into the dark to draw others to Jesus.  It’s something we can light annually on the anniversary of our baptism as a tangible reminder that we’ve been called to be lights to the world.  Even though we can’t keep that physical candle burning forever, it’s a symbol of God’s grace in us that we should never extinguish.  And yet so many of us come and celebrate Easter here in the church and then go back to our old rut of sin on Easter Monday and get stuck there until Easter comes around the next year. So St. John goes on in today’s Epistle, exhorting us and affirming the reality of  the new life Jesus offers.  Maybe we fail to live as Easter people for the rest of the year because we doubt.  It’s not always easy to have faith in something you can’t see or in something that happened two thousand year ago.  But John goes on and says: God has given us witnesses to the reality of his grace. This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.  For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree. (1 John 5:6-8) The Sacraments: Baptism, in which Christ comes to us through the water, and the Lord’s Supper, in which he comes to us through his blood, are signs and seals of God’s grace. They’re tangible reminders.  But even more importantly, his most important means of grace is his own Holy Spirit, whom he pours into us in Baptism and who gives us understanding, witnesses the Truth to us, and transforms our lives.  Our faith isn’t a blind faith.  We’re not jumping off a cliff when we can’t see the bottom and just blindly hoping that it’s a short drop.  When we step out in Christian faith, we have the full witness of God showing us the way forward. Think about that.  We have the full witness, the full testimony of God.  How many things do accept simply because someone has told you about them?  We accept the authority of people who are knowledgeable.  We accept the statements of people who have been direct witnesses to events.  And St. John goes on and tells us: When it comes to our faith—on which our eternal life or death depends—we have much more than the mere witness of men.  We have that, but we also have the witness of God himself.  He says: If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son.  Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son.  And this is the testimony, [this is what the water, the blood, and the Spirit witness to us] that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.  Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. (1 John 5:9-12) If we are in Christ Jesus, we have new life.  Period.  That’s the Easter message.  But, again, Easter reminds us as I said last Sunday, not to live that life passively.  Pursue it actively!  Don’t squander the grace of God.  That’s the point of the ancient Easter Epistle.  We only read it anymore if we have two services on Easter Sunday, but listen to what St. Paul says there to the Corinthians: Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.  Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6b-8 NASB) Every year as the feast approached the Jews cleaned their house of leaven—a thing that became a symbol of sin.  As Paul says here, it only takes a little bit of leaven to work its way through a whole lump of dough.  It multiplies and grows and spreads.  Sin tends to work the same way.  I notice in my own life that all it takes is one little sin—often something I’m on guard for and step into deliberately and wilfully—and suddenly a host of sins cascades into my life without my even really realising it until it’s too late.  We’re all like that.  Passover reminded the Jews that God is the gracious Redeemer, but that redemption means a putting away of sin—a cleansing of our lives. Easter is the fulfilment of that Old Testament type and shadow that was given to the people in the Passover.  Jesus redeemed us at the cross.  Jesus has washed us clean and because he’s given us his grace—as we hear his Word, as we receive his Sacraments, as we are united with and in fellowship with his Body, and most of all as his Spirit works in us to make us actually holy—he expects us to get rid of the leaven of sin, to get rid of the things that drag us down, that cause us to stumble, and instead to learn to be obedient.  Easter is the cleaning out of sin’s leaven—and it shouldn’t be something we do for a day each Spring, but something we do every day. Think of it this way: When the Jews sacrificed that Passover lamb, they had to remove the leaven from their houses for a week.  Jesus, the true Passover Lamb has now been sacrificed for us—a once-for-all-time sacrifice.  Therefore let us keep the feast—the eternal Passover—not by living lives full of malice and wickedness, but by living in the grace of God every day so that we can feed and nourish ourselves on sincerity and truth.  As we read in last Sunday’s Epistle: If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1-2) The Easter message is the Gospel—the Good News—itself, and so Easter is the dividing line between the old man of the flesh and the new man of the Spirit.  The man or woman of the flesh lives with his or her mind focused on the things of this world.  He lives for today.  As Pauls say in Philippians, “their god is their belly,” and his life is marked by covetousness, the lust of the flesh, and pride.  In contrast the Christian who has received the Gospel message—the man or woman who lives as an Easter person—might live in this world, but his or her focus is on God’s kingdom and on eternity.  That’s why Paul warns us: Examine your lives.  If you find that your focus is centred on making money, hoarding up worldly possessions, or seeking after pleasure, then you know that Easter isn’t having a lasting impact on your life.  And the fact is that we all have room for improvement. So let me close with this: We all need to make some renovations in our lives.  And as we start pulling things down so that we can build them back up on the grace of Easter, there are two things we should keep in mind: we need to lay a strong foundation and we need to take advantage of the means of grace that God gives so that we can persevere. The foundation is faith.  Again, St. John said in the Epistle: “This is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.”  If we continued reading where our Gospel lesson today leaves off, we’d read Jesus telling St. Thomas: “Thomas, because you have seen me, you have believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).  And brothers and sisters, the Church tells us the same thing in our baptism: Treasure your faith, but not a faith that just accepts as true whatever God has revealed, but a faith that governs all your actions—your whole lives; not a faith that hides away in a church, but a faith that shows itself to the whole world.  Think about it.  What kind of faith is going to overcome the world?  We all know Christians who don’t practice their faith—it’s just head knowledge with little or no impact on how they live.  Some of us are like that.  And yet we just accept it as if it’s okay.  It shouldn’t be okay!  A Christian who doesn’t live his faith will never overcome a world—in fact, he or she becomes a scandal to the world and is him- or herself overcome by the world.  They turn Easter upside-down. How can faith overcome the world?  It happens as each of us lets Easter—lets the Gospel—continually influence our life—as we daily renounce the devil, set our hearts on the things of heaven, love our brothers and sisters, and as we hide our lives away in God.  That’s how Christians live their faith and overcome the world.  If, on the other hand, we imitate the methods and ways of the world, if we share the desires of the world, we’ll never be the victors—instead, we’ll be the vanquished—we’ll be conquered by the world, instead of being an influence for good. The problem is that we’re all fickle.  We’re all prone to stumbling and falling back into our old ways.  The good news is, as St. John tells us today, that the same God who has given us Easter grace at the baptismal font—who witnesses himself in the water—makes sure that we have the grace to persevere in our faith as he comes to us in the blood as well—as he invites us to his Table.  In our baptism Jesus unites us to himself, to share his life, as he pours his Spirit into us, but every Sunday as we gather here at his Table, he reminds us again that it’s his Body and Blood that give us life, that we partake of as living members of his Body.  So friends, let us walk as overcomers, be refreshed here as Jesus witnesses his saving grace and exhorts us to live new lives through the water, through the blood, and through the Spirit, so that we can go out in confidence to carry the light of the Gospel to the world. Let us pray: “Almighty Father, you have given your only Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant that we may put away the old leaven of corruption and wickedness, and always serve you in sincerity and truth; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”
Bible Text: 1 John 4:7-21; Luke 16:19-31 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the First Sunday after Trinity 1 St. John 4:7-21 & St. Luke 16:19-31 by William Klock As I said last week, the lessons that we hear read during Trinitytide—during the second half of the Church Year—are meant to show us what it looks like to live in God’s kingdom.  In the first half of the Church Year the lessons show us Jesus and show us how he made our salvation possible.  Last Sunday we had that word of warning that Jesus gave to Nicodemus, the Pharisee: You cannot enter my kingdom unless you’ve been born again of water and the Spirit.  Today we start this series of lessons that show us what it looks like to be born again—what our new character should be like—and, practically speaking, how to apply in our own lives the grace Jesus offers us at the cross. Brothers and sisters, the lessons don’t start us out with the easy parts of the Christian life.  They throw us into the deep water and call us to swim.  Our Epistle this morning is 1 St. John 4:7-21.  Here’s how John begins: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. “Let us love one another.”  Why?  Because “love is from God.”  A Christian should want what God offers and John tells us “love is from God.”  As I talk with Christians, though, I often wonder how high love is on our list of things we want more of from God.  We want this gift or that gift, we want power, we want more of the Spirit, we want to know the Bible better, we want the ability to evangelise the lost…but it’s very seldom I ever hear someone say: “I want to love God more” or “I want to learn how to love others more”.  And yet, friends, John makes this the first priority, and not only a first priority, but one of, if not the chiefest, evidences that we are truly in Christ.  “Let us love one another, for love is from God” and if that’s true it then logically follows: “whoever loves has been born of God”—and not only born of, but “knowsGod.”  None of us can truly love with a godly love until we’ve been born again.  And it also logically follows, as John says in verse 8: Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. Those are powerful words—words I would encourage you to meditate on this week.  St. Augustine said, “If nothing else were said of love in this Epistle, and nothing else in all the Scriptures, yet, if the Spirit told us this only, that God is Love, we ought to require nothing more.”  That may be a bit overly-simplistic, but there’s a lot of truth in what Augustine says, because if we know that God embodies perfect love, then we also know that every time we fail to show love, whether in thought, word, or deed no matter how big or how small—whatever we’ve done against love—is also a sin against God.  As Isaac Williams put it, “Whatever is against love is against God.”  I know these verses might sound sort of warm and fuzzy at first glance, but can you start to see just how deep the water is here?  Even though our culture’s understanding of love is cheap and debased, I think we should all be feeling some conviction of sin when we think about this, because even if we don’t fully understand love, we all know that there have been many times when we’ve been unloving. But John keeps going.  If we thought we were in deep water, he makes the water even clearer and we can see that it’s even deeper than we thought.  He’s not going to let us get away with thinking about love the way we’ve been trained to think about it by our culture.  He said that love is from God, so he shows us what God’s love looks like.  Look at verses 9 and 10: In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. John contrasts “human” love with God’s divine love.  First, it wasn’t love in word; it was love that truly manifested itself in action.  It’s easy to say “I love you”; it’s harder and requires real commitment to actually do something loving.  And God didn’t show his love in a small way.  No, he sent his own Son to give us back the life we had lost through sin.  And that raises the second point of contrast between human love and divine love.  As men and women, we love when it benefits us.  We love when we feel like it.  We love those who are lovely.  We aren’t inclined to love the unlovable.  And our current divorce rate shows that it doesn’t take much for human love to evaporate in the face of offense or adversity.  God, on the other hand, loved us when we were totally unlovable by human standards.  He loved us when we were his enemies.  As St. Paul says in Romans, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).  St. John stresses the point: God doesn’t love us because we fist loved him.  We first hated and despised him.  But despite being his enemies, he first loved us. That’s why I say that the water is deep.  John tells us that as Christians we should love one another.  We think, “That’s not so hard.”  And then he shows us the love of Jesus.  He’s not talking about shallow, fickle, human love.  He’s talking about God’s love—love ready to die even for its enemy.  He’s talking about the “deep, deep love of Jesus.”  And then he challenges us again in verses 11 and 12: Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  [Why?] No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. Think of it this way: If we claim to love God, we ought to love the things that he loves.  That’s why as Christians we should have a love for holiness and a real desire to be holy and to grow in our own personal holiness.  But the same principle applies to how and to whom we love.  Think about how much God loves you.  You were a sinner—his enemy—and yet he sent his Son to die for you.  God loves you more than you can ever grasp.  Now look at the person sitting next to you.  God did exactly the same thing for him or for her!  God loves the person sitting next to you just as much as he loves you.  And the same can be said for the person sitting across the room that maybe you’re not so fond of as the person you chose to sit next to this morning.  In fact, consider that Jesus died because “God so loved the world”.  There is not a person in this world whom God doesn’t love just as much as he loves you—and that includes every person you truly dislike or, dare I say, even hate.  It even applies to the people who have sinned against you and done you wrong.  Let that sink in, brothers and sisters.  And then consider again John’s words: “No one has seen God,” but “if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.”  We can sing our love and praises to God.  We can tell him in our prayers that we love him, but God wants to see our love for him in action—and our love for God in action happens when we love the people around us, and especially when we show love to those who are very unlovely.  Are we about evangelism? About sharing Christ with others?  About being lights in the darkness and showing God to the world?  John says that no one has seen God, but they do see God in us when we love the way he loves.  This is why Jesus said: For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them,  ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:35-40) But let me take it a level deeper.  Jesus talks about the hungry beggar, the stranger, the sick person, or the prisoner.  It’s hard enough not to pass by the panhandler on the street or to chalk up the prisoner as some dirtbag getting his just desserts, and yet chances are none of these people has offended us personally.  We don’t hate them—we just ignore them.  That doesn’t really express how God has approached us.  We weren’t just beggars on the spiritual sidewalk asking him for help.  We weren’t prisoners who had committed a crime against someone else.  We were his enemies.  Showing love to the unlovely (the poor, the sick, the prisoners) is part of showing our love for God, but so is showing our love to the unlovable: to the person who has said hurtful and offensive things to us; to a bad neighbour; to an ungrateful child; to a bad mother or father; or to a abusive husband or wife.  Remember, God is perfectly holy, and because of that there is no sin anyone can commit against you that is as great as even your smallest sin against God.  “For God so love the world that he sent his only-begotten Son.”  There is no person on the face of this earth who is not deserving of your love.  If God is willing to love and forgive them their sins—if he loved them enough to send his Son to die for them—then you and I must love that person too. And St. John makes it clear that this isn’t optional.  He goes on in verse 13: By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. In Galatians 5, St. Paul lists the fruit of the Spirit.  What’s the first one, the most important one?  That’s right, it’s love.  Paul reminds us there that if the Spirit is in us—if we’ve been redeemed by God through Jesus Christ—then we will show him in our lives by conforming to his character, and the first and most important character trait of God is love.  If we are able to love the unlovable, it’s one of the evidences that we are in Christ—which is also means that it’s one of the most important ways that we manifest Jesus and the life-changing power of the Gospel to the people around us.  This is how we hold our Easter light high and shine it brightly.  This is how we reach a world lost in spiritual darkness. So now John sums it all up again in verses 14 to 18: And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.  God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. Our bearing the fruit of the Spirit—and especially love—is evidence of our new birth in Christ and that should be a source of assurance for us.  We know we are in Christ because we love.  And John—knowing, I think, that he’s thrown us into the deep water and that he’s challenging us—John exhorts us: The more you love, the less you have to fear.  Fear is rooted in sin, but the more we love, the more we experience the love and forgiveness of God in our own lives.  Again, he says, “We love because he first loved us.”  If there’s true and godly love in us, it’s because God is making his transforming and redeeming work of grace in our lives.  But that also means that if we lack love in our lives, if we refuse to show love to others, there’s a problem.  He says in verses 20: If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. Those are scary words, because I know people whom I don’t love and I’m sure that’s true of all of us.  We all have people in our lives who have wronged us, who have offended us, who have been abusive to us—the people who by every human standard it’s impossible to love, let alone to forgive.  But John says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar.”  And that leads us into today’s Gospel. Jesus tells us a story about two men: a rich man and a poor man.  The poor man, Lazarus, Jesus says, was sick and full of sores and it sounds like he was probably lame to boot.  He camped out at the doorstep of the rich man.  The rich man went about his life.  He dressed well, he ate well, he lived large with his wealthy friends, while all the time poor Lazarus begged outside his door.  He didn’t want much—the crumbs from the rich man’s table would have been fine—but he got nothing.  The most comfort he got was when the neighbourhood dogs came and licked his oozing sores. Then, Jesus says, they both died.  The angels took Lazarus to “Abraham’s bosom”—to that pleasant place where the faithful Old Testament saints went to await the atoning work of Jesus at the cross that would open the gates of heaven.  The rich man, however, we’re told went to hades, where he was tormented with the unfaithful, the unredeemed.  Jesus tells how, seeing Lazarus with Abraham in paradise cried out to Abraham to let Lazarus bring him a drop of water on his finger to provide even some tiny, tiny relief from his misery.  Abraham told him that it simply wasn’t possible.  There was an impassable gulf between the two.  Jesus’ main point in telling the story was to stress to those who heard him that they needed to make a choice to follow him—that once they died it was too late, as the rich man found out. But in telling the details of the story, Jesus also drives home the same point that St. John makes in our Epistle about love.  Notice that Jesus never tells us that Lazarus was a pious man, that he prayed a lot or anything like that.  And he never says that the rich man was a terrible sinner or that he was irreligious.  In fact, Jesus never implies either that Lazarus was saved because he was poor or that the rich man was damned because he was rich.  Chances are, to all outward appearances, the rich man was a religious man.  He was shocked to find himself in hades and had his friends and family known about it, they probably would have been shocked too.  Jesus’ point is that the rich man was keeping up all the right religious appearances, but that the evidence of his lack of saving faith lay in his lack of love for his brother.  And brothers and sisters, we can do a pretty good job too of keeping up religious appearances too.  We come to church, we tithe, we pray, we read our Bibles, we’re reasonably faithful in doing the things we’re “supposed” to do, and we’re reasonably faithful in avoided the things on the list of “Thou shalt nots”.  But are we, like the rich man, simply being faithful in superficial ways and to outward appearances?  Where is the love of God in our lives and in our relationships with others?  In our Epistle, John, and in our Gospel, Jesus, both tell us that if we have truly experienced the love of God—if we are in Christ and if his Holy Spirit is in us—we will love others the same way that God has loved us.  They’re telling us that we will love not just the people who are easy to love, not just the people it benefits us to love, and not even that we’ll just love the unlovely.  They’re telling us that the first and greatest evidence of the Spirit in our lives is that we will love the unlovable—just as God has loved us, who were by all human accounting utterly unlovable to God. We can go through all the outward motions, we can do all the “Thou shalts” and avoid all the “Thou shalt nots”, but if we don’t love, it’s evidence that we have never truly experienced the love of God in Christ.  John says, “Whoever does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14) and “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” (1 John 3:17).  And in our Epistle his point is to say that no man or woman can claim to have experienced the love of God, to have been forgiven their sins and been filled with the Holy Spirit and with the love of God, and yet refuse to let that love pour out to those all those around them. The Epistle closes with a command in verse 21: And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. It’s not optional, brothers and sisters.  Jesus tells us that if we love him, we will keep his commandments.  But frankly, this shouldn’t be a chore, it should more and more become a joy in our lives.  We sinners have experienced the amazing love of God in our lives!  That’s why we come and sing our praises here on Sunday morning—because we’re full of joy!  This is simply God telling us, “Don’t just tell me you love me, show me that you love me by loving and forgiving others.  Do for them what I have done for you.”  If we’re not willing to do that, John’s telling us that it throws into doubt whether or not we’ve actually experienced God’s love and forgiveness, because God’s love is so great, so amazing, so awesome, and so joy-inspiring, that if we really have experienced it, there’s no way we could hold back from sharing it with everyone else—even the people we wouldn’t ordinarily want to share it with. Now, that said, it’s not that loving some people isn’t a challenge, even for the most divinely love-filled Christian.  There are people who have done terrible things to us.  Some of you have experienced horrible, horrible wrongs at the hands of others.  And as much as we should be wanting to show them the love of God, we’re all still packing around our “old man”—our old sin nature.  The deeper the hurt, the harder it’s going to be to let go.  Sometimes the feeling simply isn’t there.  But the fact is that love isn’t just a feeling—it’s even more so an action.  Jesus knew this and it’s why he tells us, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).  If we act in love, the feelings of love will follow.  But the bottom line is that if we are in Christ, we have experienced his love, and we will show that love to others.  Not like the rich man in the parable, who loved the lovable people in his life, but like our heavenly Father who loved his enemies so much that he sent his own Son to die that they might be redeemed, so that they could be restored to his fellowship.  Even when it’s hard, we’ll do our best to try.  If we can’t walk in love with someone else, we’ll crawl—we’ll put one foot in front of the other until Jesus teaches us to walk.  Whatever it takes, we will do it if the Holy Spirit is truly in us. Let us pray: “Lord God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: mercifully accept our prayers, and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do nothing good without you, grant us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.”
Bible Text: 1 John 3:13-24; Luke 14:16-24 | Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: The Church Year Sermon for the Second Sunday after Trinity 1 St. John 3:13-24 & St. Luke 14:16-24 by William Klock Our lessons today dovetail off last Sunday’s lessons about love—about God’s love amazing love for us and the fact that those who have experienced his love will always show it by sharing it with others—especially with the unlovely and the unlovable.  It’s a powerful love, and we see its power as it not only saves us, but as it also inevitably transforms us.  In last Sunday’s Epistle, St. John stressed that the love of God is so powerful that when we experience it, we can’t help but show it to others and that if we fail to share it with others, that’s simply proof that, despite what we may think about the state of our souls, despite however much we may come to church and sing songs about how much we love God, despite all our good works, we haven’t actually experienced God’s love ourselves.  In today’s Epistle John continues with this love theme, stressing that God’s love is so amazing that in it we can find assurance of our being in his grace.  He says in 1 John 3:19: By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him… Do you ever wonder if you’re really “saved”?  Doubt is a real problem, especially I think after we’ve stumbled and fallen into sin.  We wonder if a real Christian would do what we’ve just done.  We question where we stand before God.  But John exhorts us: …for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; [he graciously and powerfully reassures us] and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. (1 John 3:20-22) The grace and mercy and love of God so transform the heart of the Christian that the transformation of the heart itself is one of the sources of our assurance.  Before we knew Jesus our hearts were filled with impurity, idolatry, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, and envy—filled with sin and every sinful and selfish desire—but when the Holy Spirit came into our hearts he radically transformed us and now we bear what St. Paul called the “fruit of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  We’re now polar opposites of what we once were.  That’s why Paul warned the Corinthians: They wanted to know if people were filled with the Holy Spirit and they looked for the manifestation of certain gifts as proof, just as some people today insist that you have to speak in tongues if you’ve got the Spirit.  But Paul told them, “No.  If you want to know if someone’s got the Holy Spirit, you’ll know it if they’ve made Jesus their Lord.  No one can do that unless the Holy Spirit has come into them and changed their heart.”  We’re all naturally enemies of God.  Our hearts are fixed on sin.  But the amazing love of God that is manifested in his sending his Son to die for us on the cross, to take our sin and our sentence of eternal damnation on himself, will always radically transform the man or the woman who has faith in Jesus’ ability to save them from sin and death, who truly puts his or her trust in Jesus, admitting that they cannot save themselves.  That transformation, that making Jesus our Lord, that switch from sinner to saint, and especially as John stresses here, the new ability and desire to love the unlovely and the unlovable, is the sure evidence of God’s saving grace in our lives.  Isaac Williams called it the “chain which reaches to the throne of God, and connects with it every action of our daily life.”  John says: And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.  (1 John 3:23-24) St. Paul says much the same thing in Romans 8:16: The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. What’s amazing is that even though through Jesus, God offers us his love, his peace, and assurance of pardon from sin, there are people who turn him down.  We read these words about the love of God to us and our love in return and it’s utterly amazing—and then we go out into the world and see that reality is that most people refuse that amazing love.  And that’s what Jesus gets at in our Gospel today.  He compares the kingdom of God to a great banquet.  I think we can grasp part of the imagery there—part of the reason why Jesus chooses a banquet as a point of comparison—but I don’t really think it impacts us like it would have the people who originally heard him.  In our culture we don’t have banquets like they did.  These were big affairs and our closest comparison would be something like a big wedding reception, but even that doesn’t quite express how big a deal a banquet was in those days.  We also miss out on the meaning because our culture is very rapidly forgetting the concept of “hospitality”.  People don’t entertain or invite others to share meals with them the way they used to—even when I was young, which wasn’t very long ago.  There’s something about sharing a meal with someone.  Think about your circle of friends and acquaintances.  There are lots of people we might socialise with in a casual way.  We know them, but we don’t really know them.  There are people we might work with on a daily basis or friends we get together with at church or other social events, but we don’t usually invite people into our homes unless we know them well and feel comfortable and assured with them—and if we invite them home to sit at our table and we don’t know them, it’s because we want to get to know them better.  There’s just something about sharing a meal that builds a relationship and expresses a depth of fellowship that’s hard to express in any other way. There’s probably nothing in the Old Testament that makes this point better than the story of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9.  David had defeated Saul and his supporters, he’d defeated the Philistines, and after years of struggle, he’d finally got himself firmly established on the throne of Israel.  One of his first orders of business after all those years of fighting and turmoil was to seek out whether or not there was anyone left alive from the house of Saul.  In that day and age it was typical that when there was a hostile take-over of the throne, the new king would not only kill his rival, but would also kill off his close supporters, his family, and especially his sons and grandsons—the point was to eliminate your rivals.  But that’s not why David was looking for members of Saul’s family.  David looked up a man named Ziba who had been one of Saul’s servants and asked him, “Is there still anyone left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”  You see, David and Saul’s son, Jonathan, had been best friends.  Jonathan had died in the battle between David and Saul and David now, instead of wanting to make sure he had no rivals, wanted for the sake of his friend to show kindness to one of his relatives.  Saul had made David’s life miserable, had even tried to murder him several times, but David wanted to show forgiveness to Saul’s family and kindness to his friend’s son. Ziba tells David that, in fact, one of Jonathan’s sons was still alive—a man named Mephibosheth.  We read a few chapters earlier that when Saul and Jonathan had been killed, news was taken back to Jonathan’s home.  Mephibosheth’s nurse, fearing that David would soon come for the little boy, ran with him and that they had lived in hiding for all these years.  Ziba told David about Mephibosheth, whom he noted was also lame in both his feet.  It’s a sad and pathetic picture that he paints of this young man, the grandson of the deposed king, living in hiding for years, and crippled to boot. Mephibosheth’s story was a sad one. And so David sends his men to get him.  The poor guy had to be afraid.  Here he’d been lame and living in hiding for most of his life and now the king has his men come and pick him up to take him to the palace.  And when he gets there, Mephibosheth throws himself down on his face before David, no doubt in fear, begging for mercy, “Behold!  I am your servant,” he says to David.  And that’s when David does what poor Mephibosheth never expected.  Instead of killing him or throwing him into the dungeon, David tells him, “Mephibosheth!  Don’t be afraid.  Your father, Jonathan was my best friend.  I loved him dearly and for his sake I brought you here to show you my kindness.  I’m restoring to you everything that belonged to your grandfather, Saul, and I want you to live in my house and eat bread at my table.”  Wow!  But that’s exactly what happened.  The author of Samuel tells us, “So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table, like one of the king’s sons….So Mephibosheth lived in Jerusalem, for he ate always at the king’s table.” Mephibosheth was the son of David’s best friend.  David wanted fellowship with him, he wanted to show him the greatest honour he could, he wanted to be close to him, so he seated him at his own table.  Brothers and sisters, Mephibosheth is a type of you and me.  As Mephibosheth was born the son of David’s rival to the throne, so we are by birth the sons of the prince of this world—sons and daughters of the devil.  We are by birth, every one of us, rivals to God.  He’s our sovereign, but we’ve turned our backs on him and thrown him out of our lives.  We were his enemies.  Mephibosheth was lame in both feet and you and I are just as lame spiritually as he was physically.  We’re spiritual good-for-nothings.  And yet God loves us still.  He sent Jesus to die for us that we might be reconciled to him, and now as the brothers and sisters of Christ and as God’s own children by adoption, he invites us to sit at his table—to share bread with him as sons and daughters of the King.  David didn’t care that Mephibosheth was the grandson of Saul and by that his hereditary enemy.  He didn’t care that Mephibosheth was lame in both feet and good for nothing.  He loved him for the sake of his friend Jonathan.  Similarly, God doesn’t look at our sins anymore, he doesn’t look at our spiritual lameness or the fact that we were once his enemies, instead he looks at us and he loves us for the sake of his own Son, Jesus.  Think about that when you come to his Table each Sunday.  Think of Mephibosheth and consider that there’s nothing arbitrary about the symbolism of the Lord’s Supper.  God wants to show us kindness for the sake of his Son, so he invites us to sit and eat bread at his Table as his own sons and daughters. Can you see why Jesus would compare the kingdom of God to a great banquet?  Jesus was himself at a banquet and had just been saying, “When you give a banquet, don’t invite your friends or your family or your rich neighbours.  That’s no credit to you, because they’ll just invite you to their own banquet.  No, if you want to truly do good, invite the poor and blind and lame—people like Mephibosheth—people who can’t pay you back.  That shows real love—the same kind of love that God has shown you.”  The Holy Trinity had its own divine fellowship party going on for all eternity, but that wasn’t enough.  Just as it wasn’t enough for David to have his friends and supporters at his table, but instead wanted to bring in the grandson of his enemy, to show kindness and grace to him, so God seeks us out—his enemies—and brings us into his fellowship.  Jesus says that we should do the same.  And the Pharisee sitting next to him, completely missing the point, toasts Jesus and says, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” I can imagine Jesus shaking his head and then telling this story: A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’  (John 14:16-17) That’s exactly what God has done.  Jesus took on himself the form of a servant, he came to his own, and lovingly calls us into his kingdom with the Good News of the Gospel.  He calls us to wash ourselves in his grace, to set aside all the things of this world.  He even offers to dress us in his own royal robes of salvation.  And yet, Jesus goes on in his story: But they all alike began to make excuses. (Luke 14:18) They didn’t refuse him outright, but every one of them came up with some excuse why he or she couldn’t come.  God in his goodness spread a table, in his graciousness he invites us—even his enemies—and we start making excuses and turning down the invitation. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said,  ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’ (Luke 14:18-20) If this hits close to home, that’s because it should.  Jesus picks three perfect examples that pretty well cover every part of life that might distract us from him and from being conformed to that love of God and neighbour that St. John writes about in today’s Epistle.  Notice, these people aren’t guilty of doing anything that’s outright wrong.  “Sorry, no, I can’t make it to dinner tonight because I’ve got a prior obligation to rob a bank.”  “Sorry, I’d really rather stay home and surf porn on the Internet.”  “Thanks for the invite, but I was planning to spend this evening on the phone spreading all the latest church gossip.”  No, the reasons these men give for not coming are all very reasonable.  The man really does need to look after his new field.  The other needs to take care of his oxen.  And we’d all agree that the third man shouldn’t be ignoring his new wife.  But the thing is that the man’s invitation to his banquet doesn’t require any of these men to abandon their worldly obligations.  The man isn’t asking them to give up their fields, or their livestock, or their wives.  Had they wanted to, they could have come to the banquet.  The problem wasn’t in their obligations; it was in their hearts.  They didn’t want to go to the banquet because at the moment they each had something new and shiny that was more important to them. How often do we do the same thing?  When I’m working on a project—and I’ve been working on quite a few lately—I tend to get consumed by them.  I’ve been publishing resources for preachers on the Internet and I’ve been re-typesetting and publishing some long out-of-print books and commentaries on preaching.  It’s easy to get up in the morning and skip Morning Prayer.  And it would certainly be easy to justify.  “Hey, I’m working on something good and edifying—it even involves a lot of Scripture!”  It’s easy to let “things” consume us and in the end we become so focused on them that we lose our focus on God.  Our projects, our work, our hobbies and sports, our household chores, even our families, can all distract us from the love of God.  That’s a dangerous thing to have happen.  St. John writes: Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world— the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.  (1 John 2:15-16) So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go out quickly to the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in the poor and crippled and blind and lame.’ (Luke 14:21) If the scribes and Pharisees won’t come, Jesus calls all the louder and opens the doors even wider.  If the self-righteous aren’t moved by his loving-kindness, there are people who are poor and sick who are ready to take hold of the hem of his garment.  There are those who know their need—who know that they are “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—and who know that Jesus will meet their needs.  And yet the master is angry with men because they love death.  He offers them life and they refuse his invitation.  We can be thankful, though, that “his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime” (Psalm 30:5). The wonderful thing about God’s banquet is that there’s always room for more.  The servant said to the master: ‘Sir, what you commanded has been done, and still there is room.’ And the master said to the servant, ‘Go out to the highways and hedges and compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. For I tell you, none of those men who were invited shall taste my banquet.’” (Luke 14:22-24) If we won’t accept the invitation, the Master’s call goes out to other sheep.  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). Jesus taught with parables, but in this case the line between the parable and the real world is hard to define, because through Jesus our heavenly Father really has prepared a feast for the faithful.  The sacrament he offers at the Table here today, in the bread and in the wine, is the sign and the seal of the life he offers us and it’s the earnest of the heavenly banquet that awaits us on the other side of eternity—that feast of true and unending and perfect fellowship with God.  The meal to which we’re invited today is the sign and seal of divine love.  As we gather here at the Table, we’re all made to be One Bread and One Body.  The bread from the “grain of wheat” which died that it might “bring forth much fruit;” and formed of that One Body that was freely given in death for us, that now lives, and that as he lives gives us life.  The Table reminds us that “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). This morning we eat the bread that came down from heaven, the bread that gives life to the world.  As we do that, meditate on Jesus’ offering of himself for us.  Think of Mephibosheth—the king’s rival, his hereditary enemy, but also the man whom the king forgave, the man to whom he showed kindness, all for the sake of another.  That’s what God does for us when he invites us to his Supper.  Think on that. Think on the amazing love of God for us, because brothers and sisters, there’s nothing else that will drive out the lust of the flesh and the love of the world; there’s nothing else that will humble our pride and drive us to share the Good News with others, than to think of the shame and sorrow we have laid on him and that he willingly bore for our sakes.  As we read in the Epistle, we’re called to love those around us—even to lay down our lives for them just as Jesus laid down his life for us.  If we truly understand what our Lord has done for us, if we truly understand what he offers at his Table, and if we truly understand that to which he invites us in heaven, we should be able to do nothing else but share his love with all those around us.  Let us not forsake the Lord’s invitation to the feast, but as we go there, as we anticipate the goodness of our God, let us carry his call in our words and deeds of love to all those in the streets and lanes, and in the highways and hedges, that they might sit at the Table with us. Let us pray: Lord God we acknowledged in the Collect that you have brought us up in your steadfast love.  Let us never take your love for granted.  Let us never be so consumed by the things of the world that we forsake your invitation to eat bread at your Table.  And, Father, let your love never become so common-place in our hearts and minds that we are not moved to share it with others.  We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our loving Saviour and Lord.  Amen.